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Common Error: Confusing "say," "tell," and "speak"

Let’s call today “Mistake Monday” and talk about another Common Error!
We’ve already talked about the eyes (see, watch, look) and earlier today we discussed what we do with our ears (hear and listen). Now let’s take a look at words associated with our mouths, namely “say,” “tell,” and “speak.” I notice that my students have trouble with these words, so let’s see how we can use them correctly:
Common Error: Confusing “say,” “tell,” and “speak”
DON’T say this: Please say me your name.
I said him that I couldn’t meet for dinner.
What did you just tell?
WHY? -When you use the word “tell,” you usually indicate who is told. There is usually a “personal object”: “Tell me what you’re thinking.” There are a few expressions that can work without the personal object, like “tell the truth,” “tell a lie,” “tell the time,” and “tell the difference,” but you can also add a personal object to all of these, if you want.

-The word “say” has almost the same meaning as “tell,” but with “say,” we usually don’t indicate who is told. The word “say” usually comes before a clause, as in: “You didn’t say that you were hungry.” OR “Kiersten said, ‘Hello!’

-“Speak” means to talk formally, and it often uses the words “to” or “with” if a personal object is indicated: “I spoke to John about his bad behavior.” OR “Could you please speak with him to clear up this matter?” Also, speak can indicate language ability: “I don’t speak Japanese.”

INSTEAD, SAY THIS: -“Could you tell me your name, please?”
-“What did you just say?” OR “What did you just tell Mary?”
-“I told him that I couldn’t meet him for dinner.”
-“What would you say if I told you I was a vampire?”
-“She told John that he should stop telling lies about her.”

I hope this explanation helps you out! If you have any questions or comments, be sure to write me a message in the comments area. Thanks for reading, and good luck!
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Common Error: Confusing "Listen" and "Hear"

One Comment

  1. Sitzman
    On January 28, 2011 at 1:40 am Reply

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